Category Archives: Tasting Notes

Exploring the Wines of Montefalco

Pettino – Our Umbrian Village

Italy has always been a bit of a mystery to me.  When I first started studying for my WSET programs it was a toss up between Italy and Germany as to which was the most confusing.  Now, after years of study I understand that I will NEVER, in my LIFE, know everything there is to know about Italian wines.  I have contented myself, however, with exploring a region here and there when I get the chance.  One such chance has presented itself in the last month and I hope to make the most of it.  Montefalco is a small mountain village in the province of Perugia in Umbria almost exactly half way down the boot,  in the middle of the peninsula.  It was originally settled by the Umbri, an ancient Italian tribe, which lived in the area from the 9th-4th centuries BC.  In March of this year, Montefalco was named Italy’s Best New Wine Region by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.  It is only a short train ride from Rome making it an easy escape from the bustling city to the mountains.  The region, largely known for their fabulous truffles, olive groves, and amazing hill top vistas is now starting to break out from underneath the shadow of their Tuscan cousins.  Every spring around Easter the town holds a large festival called Settimana Enologica or “Wine Week” to bring tourists in to sample the local wines.   Until recently, the wines of this area have been not well known outside of Italy. However, the Consorzio Montefalco is working to change that and have graciously sent me two wines to taste and explore to get a sense of what this area and the Sagrantino grape are all about.

Colpetrone 2011 Montefalco Rosso DOC – Elegant and Floral

The first wine hails from one of the most important producers in the DOCG area.  Montefalco Rosso is usually a blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino.  This wine is a beautiful blend of both plus a bit of Merlot coming from a vineyard planted in 1997 on limy soil with clay deposits.  A moderately deep ruby colored core followed by a lovely burst of plum and black cherry on the nose.  The wine had none of the “raspberry leaf” character I normally associate with wines from further north in the country but did have a distinctive earthy aroma reminiscent of crushed late fall leaves.  The intensity of the fruit suggests a lack of oak influence which was confirmed by the dossier that accompanied it.  With a moderate body, fresh acid, and structured but supple tannins that hit in the middle of the tongue, this wine is more weighty than a Pinot Noir but just as elegant.  It is strikingly similar in style to Chianti Classicos but with darker fruit and rounded edges.  While this wine can age a couple more years due to its textured tannins I highly recommend taking advantage of it’s fruitful youth!

Azienda Agraria Scacciadiavoli 2008 Montefalco Sagrantino – Power Punch

The second wine comes from the oldest winery of the Montefalco appellation, founded in 1884.  The name Scacciadiavoli, literally translates to “cast out the devils” apparently named for a 19th century exorcist who lived in the village.  The vineyard is 400 meters above sea level on a clay shale soil.  The wine itself is intense with a dense ruby core that is impossible to see through, living up to the expectation that Sagrantino is one of the most deeply colored grapes in the world.  The nose is quite concentrated with aromas of ripe black plum, graphite, and cedar.  The full body continues with the concentrated theme with intensely structured tannins, the description of which is hard to pin down.  It is similar to the texture of Nebbiolo but slightly smoother with the intensity and palate distribution of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The finish is long and the wine is crying out for food as most Italian reds do.  If the body were lighter the tannins would be harsh and out of balance however the richness in the core of this wine was deeply concentrated and left a seamless transition from beginning to end. My hat is off to the winemaker because I know it is quite challenging to balance tannins of that quantity! It is quite unlike anything I have ever tasted before.   This is a 2008, already over 6 years old and I am of the opinion I opened it too young!  This structure is built for aging quite in line with the other hallowed regions of this country.  If you are interested in this wine it seems the previous vintage is for sale at one of my favorite wine sourcing spots, K & L Wines in San Francisco.

These wines have distinctively different styles however both show that this region is focused on making serious wine that can stand on the international market.  The town itself looks charming and it’s views dramatic.  I only hope I get the chance to visit for myself soon!

Picture courtesy of MontefalcoMob.com

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The Wine Styles of Summer

When the weather gets hot, sometimes people feel very limited by the wines they can drink. White wines are typically a “go to” since they can be served chilled.  However, Rose wines can make an excellent option as well as lighter style reds.  This past week I was at the Cornell Club in New York City talking about this very subject.  It was a great tasting with around 50 very interactive people.  We covered not only summer wine styles but went into wine an food pairing, the reasons for ancient cultures’ additions of wine to water as well as my current views on the challenges of marketing wine in Asia.  I won’t go into the full discussion here but I will tell you.

Ruffino Prosecco, NV, Italy – Light and Bubbly

This is a great go to wine for the summer.  It is reasonably priced, deliciously crisp, and has a light body that even the most discerning of wine drinkers will enjoy on a hot day.  It also works well for those summer cocktails that call for something bubbly.

Ravines Dry Riesling, 2014, Finger Lakes, NY – Stone and Chalk

This is one of my favorite Rieslings from the Finger Lakes.  Bright acid and a dry palate make this wine perfect for humid summer night sipping.  The aromatics are very minerally and the fruit shows up on the palate as a mix of tropical and stone fruit.

Etude Rose of Pinot Noir, 2014, Carneros, CA – Zesty and Fruity

This rose comes from one of my favorite Pinot Noir vineyards in California, Grace Benoist Ranch.  I was fortunate enough to make wine from this vineyard in 2010 although it didn’t end up getting in a bottle by itself.  This rose is full bodied with crisp acid and lovely flavors of ripe strawberries and peaches.  It is a great wine for a meatier summer dish that would be too savory for a white wine but when a red would be too heavy.

Christophe Pacalet Fleurie, 2013, Beaujolais Cru, France – Elegant and Floral

Beaujolais some times gets a bad rap because of the Nouveau phenomenon however many of the Cru level producers are turning out very respectable wines that are delicious in the summer with a light chill on them.  The tannins on this wine are soft and supple with a light palate and floral nose.

Cooper’s Creek Pinot Noir, 2013, Hawk’s Bay, New Zealand – Elegant and Floral

This was a surprising wine.  Of all the regions within New Zealand, Hawk’s Bay would be my last pick for Pinot Noir. It is considered a warm spot in a cool climate ideally suited for Bordeaux varieties and Syrah, particularly from the Gimblett Gravels area. However, high up in the hills, there are Pinot Noir growers who are working with this variety at high altitudes. It is very similar in style to Carneros with dark, juicy fruit and moderate acid for a Pinot Noir which tends to be higher overall as a variety.  The soft tannins also allowed it to take a slight chill for the tasting without losing any of the complexity of the wine.

Finally, one can not really talk about things to drink in the summer time without talking about Beer!  I was on vacation in the Poconos, where I spent the rest of the week while not in NYC, and nearby was this fantastic Craft Brewery called Shawnee Craft.  I became quite enchanted with their Biere Blanche, an unfiltered “Belgian-style wheat beer” with a citrusy nose and wheat driven palate.  They also had live music on Friday night that consisted of a talented guitarist with moderate singing ability and two percussionists, making for a lively jam session.

I miss the beer.  Perhaps they ship?

 The cheese selection in Eataly in NYC was amazing by the way. I though I would share!

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Exploring the Local Microclimate

The past two months we have been in New York have been so amazing.  I’m settling into my new job.  Our boxes are almost unpacked and we had time this week to get out and about in the area.

The first place we spend a good bit of our time is our future vineyard property.  We have 12 beautiful acres on the Northeast side of Seneca lake that is currently a wild, overgrown mix of crabapples, wild roses, various grasses, pines, spruces, and hardwoods.  It is a shale based soil with huge chunks of weathered shale spread all over the surface.  It is quite fascinating to look a these huge rocks which are flaking apart from the severe weather they have experienced.

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There is one thing I have always loved in the Finger Lakes and that is the color of the sky!  It is so vibrantly blue contrasting with the amazing bright green of the trees.  There are no filters on this photo!  It really is that blue!

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We had some free time sans child last night for a quick date night and ended up at a small wine bar in Geneva (recommended by a new found fellow winemaking friend) called Microclimate.  The atmosphere is sophisticated, rustic, and homey all at the same time.  Last night the doors and windows were open and the sound of live bluegrass music could be heard on our walk up to the front.

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Apparently it was Americana music night which happens only on the last Thursday night of the month during the “off season”.  Stephanie, one of the owners, was manning the bar and all too happy to bring us up to speed on the music.  The players all show up from various bands and come together to adlib several hours of really fantastic music.  They welcome other instrumentalists and singers.  This night involved several guitar players, a banjo, mandolin, harmonicas, bass, and a trumpet. Their rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” was fantastic!

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The wine list is small but impressive having not only local selections but wines from all over the world.  The flights of five wines each always have one Finger Lakes wine represented as well as the same style or variety from four to five other countries in the world.  “Its so you don’t get blinders for what is going on in the rest of the world” she says holding her hands by her eyes.  “This gives people perspective.”  She is half French and half Spanish and joked about a customer who once told her that he trusted her wine knowledge more because she spoke with a French accent.  “He made my night I laughed so hard.”  She and her business partner built everything for the bar from the aluminum bar top, wooden benches, and riddling rack lined walls.  Even the bathrooms are walled in tartrate covered old wine vat wood.  We each talked about our decisions to move to the area from other wine producing regions and shared similar views.  “It’s so exciting here!” she exclaimed. ” There is so much room for growth and opportunity.” The bar has been open for three years and has become a local winemaker hangout.   I can tell for sure we will be back.

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 Stephanie mans the bar at Microclimate.

Wines tasted…

2012 Heart and Hands Pinot Noir, Finger Lakes – Elegant and Floral

Very restrained Pinot Noir with fragrant nose of truffle, wild raspberry and sous bois.  Delicate tannins with a soft finish and extremely well integrated oak.  Smells very much like Francois Freres.

2012 Blaufrankisch, Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes – Spicy and Smoky

This wine was incredibly interesting with aromas of plum, hints of tobacco, and dark chocolate.  The oak was extremely subtle but the fruit powerful enough that I can’t categorize it as restrained.  The tannins were very well managed.  While this example was far less dense than is typical of it’s Austrian counterparts it is very well done and made me think it might be fun to try.  Unfortunately most of the wineries growing it in the Finger Lakes have gone with the far less marketable but more pronounceable name of Lemberger, no relation to the cheese…

2011 Sparkling Teroldego, Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes – Light and Bubbly

I say light and bubbly because it is sparkling but really what it is reminds me of a dry Lambrusco with cojones! Extremely well made with subtle texture and fine creamy mousse on the palate.  Fantastic!  One of those great summer wines for the red bubbly wine drinker in your life.